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When hygiene doesn’t begin at home: How age-old habits are a roadblock in ODF challenge

Despite having a toilet at home, many in rural Rajasthan cite age-old habits to justify why they prefer to go out in the open to defecate . Several others cite water shortage.

jaipur Updated: Oct 02, 2017 17:01 IST
Sachin Saini
Sachin Saini
Hindustan Times
Swachh Bharat Mission,SBM,ODF
Firewood and other household goods are piled in a toilet and a bathroom at a house in a village in the outskirts of Jaipur. The house owner cited financial constraints in setting up a water tank and constructing the cess pit.(Himanshu Vyas/ Ht Photo)

The festive season has begun and Vimla Devi’s 22-year-old daughter Mina has come visiting. Mina is married in Jaipur. Convincing her husband Suresh to take the trip to her parental house at a village in Jhothwara, a suburban area of Jaipur, was a tough task

Even Vimla was not very hopeful that Suresh, a private employee in the state capital, would let Mina visit her.

No, there are no differences between the two families. Suresh loves and respects his in-laws. It is just that he hates the fact that Mina, when she visits her parental house, has to go out in the open to relieve herself.

Vimla’s house has a toilet, built months ago under Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM), but it is not functional. Situated in a corner of the courtyard, the toilet has no doors. The pot has been put under cover, using a plastic sack. The 3ft X5ft room itself is now a store housing brooms, firewood, cans and other such knickknack.

The routine is fixed for Vimla, her daughter-in-law and Mina, whenever she come visiting: Wake up early in the morning, preferably before 4 am, shuffle to the farthest green cover or field, attend to the nature’s call in the nature’s lap, and shuffle back --- all before the first rays of sun start filtering in.

Why wouldn’t Vimla use the toilet at her home that was constructed around a year ago? “We will start using it soon after the pit is constructed and the door is put up,” Vimla says.

Her family hasn’t set deadlines for any of the two tasks.

As this correspondent interacts with several others, a narrative develops. For most, it is a case of “old habits dying hard”.

“We have no problems (defecating in open),” says Pushpa Devi. The toilet at her house has been turned into a store-room with a trunk being firmly parked atop the pot.

This toilet at a village in the outskirts of Jaipur is being used to store fodder. ( Himanshu Vyas/HT Photo )

Nathu, a tea stall owner at Jhotwara’s Manda village explains. “Men here prefer defecating in the open, though women have started using toilets. Few days ago, the block development officer (BDO) and other panchayat members caught 10-15 people during a routine morning inspection. They counselled the villagers, but people do not understand,” says Nathu

Several locals also cite water shortage. “We are facing water shortage and have to depend on the water tankers. Water tankers cost around Rs 500 per trip. When drinking water is such an issue, from where shall we manage water for toilets,” asks Babulal, another Manda village resident.

Harji Bunkar, a labourer has a different story to tell. He lives in a bamboo house but has a concrete toilet. It has been one year since he constructed the toilet and is still waiting for Rs 12,000 promised by the government under Swachh Bharat Mission. “I want to use the toilet, but I do not have the money to install a water tank atop the toilet. I can do so only after I get the government funds,” Bunkar says.

Jhotwara, an assembly constituency, has 18 gram panchayats and 65 revenue villages – all declared open defecation free (ODF) in October 2016.

BDO Pinky Sharma accepts that the constituency is ODF, but adds that “people need to change their habits”. “We are making all efforts and have initiated many programmes such as street plays, rath yatra and ratri chaupal to convince them to use the toilets. In addition, regular morning inspections are conducted,” the BDO says.

The BDO says that they even conducted an election at schools where children cast their vote on whether to use toilet at home or not. Children were then motivated to counsel their parents against defecating in the open.

Sharma says it has taken some time but the mindset of the people is now changing.

On water crisis, the BDO accepts that Jhotwara falls in the “dark zone” but adds that “it cannot be an excuse” for not using toilets. “We will identify areas with such problems and if required, with the help of gram panchayats, we’ll provide water tankers and simultaneously also look for a permanent solution,” she adds.

(Some names changed on request to protect identity.)

First Published: Oct 02, 2017 15:56 IST